Find words that have been written or spoken by someone else. You can gather these words from a variety of means – interviews, journals, archives, eavesdropping. Your subject may be a friend, stranger, alive or dead. Select your five favourite examples and create five images that do justice to the essence of those words.
You may choose to present your images with or without the original words. Either way make sure that the images are working hard to tell a story. If you decided to include the words, ensure that they add to the meaning rather than describing the image or shutting it down. Try to keep your image-and-text combinations consistent – perhaps they are all overheard conversations on a bus or all come from an old newspaper report. Keep them part of a story.
Consider different ways of presenting the words. Audio or video might lend itself well to this kind of work, or a projection of images using voice-over. Experiment.
I was rather scratching my head on what to do for this exercise until there was an ongoing episode at work a few days ago regarding our photocopy machine, which frustrated me no end. My exercise is based on those events.
Anna Fox’s work My Mother’s Cupboards is an autobiography of when Fox’s father was ill and confined to a wheelchair. Her mother was the main caregiver. Fox made the work rather secretively, keeping a notebook with her and recording her father’s rantings, particularly those about her mother, grandmother and herself.
These quotes pointed to something desperately wrong going on, a terror of women and an attempt to squash the life out of us.
As a contrast to the wild, abusive rantings of her father, she photographed her mother’s cupboards which were always very neat.
I photographed the cupboards to deliberately exaggerate the neatness and that neatness became violent like the quotes.
Anna Fox designed her book in a similar fashion as a small prayer book, with light weight pages and pale pink covers. The text (structured like poetry) and images show through the translucent pages, layering on top of on another. The print is tiny and an elegant cursive font is used so the viewer is enticed in to read the text only to be confronted with words that shock them.
The front of the book bears the title “My Mother’s Cupboards” and the rest of the book’s title is on the back of the book “My Father’s Words” which is probably only read once the book is closed, thereby providing a lingering ambiguity which is never really resolved.
This is an example of work where the text and images just don’t seem to makes sense together in the ordinary sense, but could almost work in a standalone manner. However, juxtaposed as they are and presented in the delicate manner that they are, the text and images become interlaced and a fusion is created that is highly personal and autobiographical.
Calle’s Take Care of Yourself is a body of work that was made in response to a ‘Dear Jane’ email she received from her boyfriend, breaking off their relationship. The title of this body work is taken from his sign off “take care of yourself”. In this body of work she gives the letter to 107 women of various occupations, e.g. linguist, copy editor, judge, markswoman, chess player, actress and clown to name just a few, and asked them to analyse the email from their professional standpoint.
I asked the participants to answer professionally, to analyze a breakup letter that I had received from a man. The parameters were fixed. For example, I wanted the grammarian to speak about grammar—I wanted to play with the dryness of professional vocabulary. I didn’t want the women expressing sentiment for me.
Calle, Interview Magazine
One of the interpretations can be seen in the video below (luckily there are English subtitles). Calle used various methods to interpret this letter. One of the woman who was asked to interpret the email created crossword puzzles as a profession and Calle photographed this crossword puzzle. Another woman was a singer who created a song in response. One even responded in sign language.
This body of work is a prime example of not allowing the medium to limit the interpretation of the work.
Calle, Sophie (2007) Take Care of Yourself (emma_la_clown- Prenez soin de vous) [user-generated content online] Creat. Penelope1967. 24 April, 2011. 5 mins 1 sec. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnW_trUPUmI (Accessed 17 April, 2017)
This is my second look at some of Jim Goldberg’s work, the first being during Context and Narrative (see posting here where I reviewed Open See).
In Raised by Wolves, Goldberg’s narrative takes on many forms: “a traveling art gallery exhibit, a book, a website, and an experience. All of these radically different modes of narrative function to tell the same story” (American SuburbX). The video (which might be the website mention previously) is a cacophony of sounds and images. Reminiscent of old scratchy movies of the 1950’s, the images scan so quickly across the screen that they merge into one another before being blacked out. The subjects themselves talk over the sound of traffic and city bustle, sometimes audible, sometimes not. Somehow the video reminded me a little of news footage I had seen of the holocaust camps during World War II. There was a similar tone and chaoticness attached.
The book is quieter. One has the time to read and study and digest the narrative. The accompanying text seems to be in different handwritings, probably written by the subjects themselves, hastily scribbled and carelessly crossed out. Like the Open See the subjects have written their own story which makes the work less objective. According to American SuburbX Raised by Wolves book version has a blend of photos and video stills. The text is a mixture of handwritten notes and letters and transcripts of conversation between the photographer and the subjects. The project is done in a photojournalistic style.
From the article I have read in American SuburbX I feel it would be a disservice to provide commentary on the book without having looked at it in detail. Sadly it is not available at the Vancouver Public Library. From what I can glean on the internet the work appears to be very edgy, gritty and brutally honest, with quite a bit of shock value attached.
I fell in love with Duane Michals’ work when I was doing Context and Narrative and researched his work for my assignment 2 at that time. He has an uncanny way of leaving the viewer either chuckling away at the humour attached to his images or totally enthralled with his narratives and methods. His use of text with images have been the inspiration of other photographers such as Jim Goldberg and Cindy Sherman.
His use of text with images (usually handwritten around the photo) is quite imaginative, sometimes humorous, sometimes quite tongue-in-cheek or serious. In an interview with The New Yorker magazine when asked about the use of captions with his photography, Michals responded:
My writing grew out of my frustration with photography. I never believed a photograph is worth a thousand words. If I took a picture of you, it would tell me nothing about your English accent; it would tell me nothing about you as a person. With somebody you know really well, it can be frustrating. Sixty per cent of my work is photography and the rest is writing.
Duane Michals (The New Yorker)
Michals refer to his portraits as “prose portraits” claiming that a photo can never be a true representation of oneself. There are always hidden aspects to one’s character. A prose portrait tells us about the nature of the person. In his own words a prose portrait is “about a person, rather than of a person” (Michals, The New Yorker). This statement would explain why he adds rather down to earth captions to some of his portrait photos, like the one below.
In another interview with American Photo I gathered the following valuable advice from Michals on creativity:
You should always stay open to every experience that comes your way. A lot of experiences will be strange and alien and scary and that’s the very reason you should search them out and investigate them. If you only stick to the familiar, you might as well get back in the womb.
Our lives are filled with experiences. … So we encounter all kinds of things and it’s how we respond to them that gives them their significance.
So always be open to new experiences and once they occur, don’t be afraid because being creative is based on fear—you don’t know what you’re doing. If you already know what you’re doing, you’re not really being creative.
Creativity is the discovery that you make in the process of evolving. So that’s essentially the most important thing to me, to always stay open.
Duane Michals (American Photo)
I found some of the captions on his work rather cryptic at times, but that might be because I’m not American and not familiar with some of the cultural references made. On the whole the captions serve to draw the viewer in, firstly to analyse the handwriting – Michals’ handwriting is a little to decipher at times, and secondly to engage with the narrative in the image.
Kaylynn Deveney lived close to an old gentleman by the name of Albert Hastings. As she got to know him, she started working on a photographic project with him, documenting his day to day life. To allay Albert’s concerns that he had about the photography, Deveney asked him to write the captions for each photograph. The project evolved into a book but sadly Hastings died just before the book was published.
The captions are handwritten at the bottom of the photo on lined paper by Hastings and one can see a gradual deterioration of his handwriting over the six years that the project took to make. The handwritten captions turn the work into a very subjective piece, very moving and thought provoking. Interspersed throughout the book are images of Hastings’ wife who passed away in the 1950’s. He had been living on his own for over forty years. These images have no captions, but one senses that they hold a very important place in Hastings’ heart – the love and longing gently slip off the pages and envelope the reader.
Colberg, Jörg (2011). Presenting The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings by Kaylynn Deveney [user-generated content online] Creat. Jörg Colberg. 17 August, 2011. 5 mins 47 sec. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7cUbTc-iGs (Accessed 11 April, 2017)
Page 82 of our course manual suggests that we take a look at former OCA tutor, Sharon Boothroyd’s body of work called ‘If you get married again, will you still love me?’ This is a body of work that is based on the memory of words spoken by children to their separated fathers.
There are only seven images in the body of work that are featured on Boothroyd’s website, the same work also having been featured on LensCulture and Lenscratch in 2012. I found the series very emotive and found myself empathising with each of the children featured in the subjects. Emotions of uncertainty and awkwardness flow through the series. I was reminded of my own feelings when my parents divorced, even though I was eighteen at the time and obviously had a better understanding of the difficult situation, I still felt as if suddenly I didn’t belong any more. I can see my own emotions and doubts echoed on the faces of the children in this series – the disbelief, confusion and the hurt.
Although there are no captions accompanying the photos, the title of the series provides enough context for the viewer to insert his or her own narrative to each image. Indeed, I believe that captions would spoil the series and remove the ambiguity that is resident there. All the photos are staged as Boothroyd found that when she was working with the actual fathers and children she “wasn’t getting the truth of the moments that mattered; the hidden moments that are intimate and private” (Photomonitor), so she switch to using actors and friends who she could direct accordingly.